Sunday, December 21, 2014

My response to Perry Noble's 10 Convictions about the Church...

I saw someone share a link to Perry Noble's blog with a list of his 10 convictions about the current state of the Church.

If you aren't familiar with Perry Noble, he is the pastor of NewSpring the Megachurch that is based in Anderson, SC but has campuses all over South Carolina.

Many who know me know that I am not particularly a fan of neither Pastor Noble nor NewSpring. It has nothing to do with worship style, however I do feel that although secular music in itself in church is not bad, I was especially offended when I heard that they once played AC/DC's Highway to Hell at an Easter Sunday service. I understand where NewSpring is coming from -- they are trying to get the unchurched into church, and that is great. But, worship is for Him, not for us. I am simply not sure of the level of discipleship that takes place once they get them in the doors. I've heard various tidbits of 2nd hand info, and I have heard that NS is doing a better job with this than they have, perhaps, in the past. That being said, I have never posted publicly about NewSpring because (a) I have never been to a service, so I don't know what goes on first hand and (b) I tend to not do that sort of thing, and (c) I have friends that go there, and I don't want to intentionally or unintentionally offend someone by criticizing their church. I know that Pastor Noble shares the Gospel in his messages. I think he has the best of intentions with his ministry, and sincerely wants to spread the gospel. I'm not the type of person to go ragging on another church publicly, so I never have -- especially when all I have ever based my opinion on is 2nd hand info. However, several points in this post really bother me. I don't disagree with everything so I'm only going to tackle the three points I strongly take issue with.

In his 3rd point Pastor Noble states:
"It’s not a lack of prayer that is holding most churches back; it’s a lack of preparation. We need to prepare for messy people to actually show up and not ask them to leave because they do not have the appearance of perfection." 
I'm really not sure what he is trying to say here, because personally I don't see the connection between prayer and 'messy people'. I agree, that we need to prepare for and love people of all kinds. I have personally never been a part of any church that has asked someone to leave because they don't "have an appearance of perfection." I would love to know what Pastor Noble means here. I do feel very strongly that many churches (and individuals) do struggle with a lack of prayer. I also think that lot of prayer is prayed as though God were a genie in a bottle, ready to grant our every wish, when prayer should be about being in a relationship with God. We need more quality prayer in a bad way. Prayer works, and it is neglected far too much in our lives and at home -- we need to drive home in Church how important prayer is.

Regarding his 5th point:
"Seminary will become less and less relevant because most Christian educational institutions are focused on how to reach people in the 1970s."
I don't know anyone who actually completed a seminary education that would say that. I can't imagine anyone who has had any seminary education saying that. I can't stress enough how strongly I disagree with this statement. It is not that I think that you can't teach the Word without a seminary degree, but it is so important to learn how to properly handle the Word, how to teach the Word, how to evangelize, how to disciple and be discipled, how to study, preach, teach, listen, learn, discipline yourself, manage time, manage finances... There are so many benefits of seminary this comment simply baffles me. Could our Seminaries be doing better? Of course. They are all constantly improving -- no organization is perfect. Also, perhaps Pastor Noble should visit some of these Seminaries, because I don't believe for one minute any of our SBC Seminaries are training people to reach people as they would in the 1970's. I strongly feel that this statement is made out of pure ignorance.

His 9th point is:
"Community is more important than reading the Bible. (The early church didn’t have the Bible for the first 300 years of Christianity…but they did have one another.)"
Again, I have no clue where he came up with this. If the Church had no scripture for 300 years, what did they do? What did they teach? What kind of gospel did they spread? Did they sit around singing "Kumbaya"?

The early Christians had the Old Testament canon from the Jews and embraced that as Scripture from the beginning of the Christian church. The New Testament books, however were being written and disseminated at the same time as the church was being established. The books we have as the current New Testament were written between AD 49-95. Although the spread of Christianity was probably outrunning and outgrowing the the copying and dispersing of the NT, by the close of the 1st C, AD there was widespread acceptance of the 4 Gospels, Acts and Paul's letters. Some other letters (2,3 John, Hebrews, Revelation) took a little longer to be accepted in all regions. Finally, in AD 367, Athanasius provides us with a list of canonical books that conforms exactly to the 27 books we have in our New Testament today. By the end of the 4th C., Jerome had produced the Latin Vulgate with a NT that contained the same 27 books. Around the same time, Augustine writes clearly that these 27 books are canonical. While it did take some time for the Church to sort out the Biblical Canon, to say that the Church did not have the Bible for the first 300 years of Christianity is just plain wrong. Also it is very dangerous to say that reading the Bible is not important, or is in any way less important than just being together as a community. What about a community of atheists? They don't have the Bible...are they okay? I quite literally had to pick my jaw up off the ground when I read those words written by a pastor that thousands of people respect and look to for guidance. Pastor Noble, I urge you to clarify this. The Bible is how God speaks to us. Our people should be listening to the Bible, and only to us only for exposition of the Scriptures. If they view what we say as more important than what God says to us through his written word, WE HAVE FAILED our people! To say that anything is more important than the Bible is simply arrogant.

Please, always think about what you read from pastors. Just because someone is a pastor doesn't mean you should accept everything they say as gospel (unless they are quoting scripture). Always test everything against scripture (1 Thessalonians 5:12-22, 1 John 4).

Friday, December 19, 2014

My 12 favorite books I read in 2014

George Whitefield: America's Spiritual Founding Father by Thomas S. Kidd
I haven't quite finished this yet, but there is no way it was not going to make this list! This new biography by Kidd will be a standard work for years to come. I've read other biographies on Whitefield, however this work by Kidd is my favorite. I will be doing a full review of it later.
Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards andBrandon J. O'Brien
This was a required text for my hermeneutics class, and it shaped the way I will read Scripture from now on. I can't recommend it highly enough!
The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story by Craig Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen
This was a required text for my Old Testament Survey class this semester. You can see my full review here, but in short, it's a great intro to Biblical Theology and does a great job of not only condensing the Biblical Narrative to ~250 pages, it shows how all of Scripture is interconnected.
Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright
Although I disagree with Wright on many things (and many things in this particular book), this book made me think and validate what I believe.
Office Of Assertion: An Art Of Rhetoric For Academic Essay by Scott Crider
I can't remember who exactly I saw recommend this, but this is a great intro to rhetoric, and will make anyone a better academic writer. I commend this little book to all of my fellow students.
Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them
Dr. Alvin Reid mentioned on Twitter he was reading this, so I picked it up. I'm very glad I did. It covers many aspects of writing, and will help you write better, regardless of your current level. Prose does an excellent job of passing on her love for writing to the reader.
How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler and Dr. Charles Van Doren
This was recommended on a class syllabus. This is a classic, and if you are a student, this is one of the most valuable books you should read. In fact, read it before the next semester begins. 
Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach by Dr. Kenneth Keathley
Although I don't agree with Dr. Keathley on everything he writes here, it was a valuable book for me (like Surprised by Hope) because it made me think, and validate my own beliefs. Regardless of where you are on the Calvinist/Arminian spectrum, you should read this work -- it will help you with your own beliefs.
Genesis Unbound: A Provocative New Look at the Creation Account by Dr. John Sailhamer
In short, this book rocked my world. It is likely one of the most valuable books I've ever read. Like Dr. Ken Keathley (whose book is mentioned above, and is a Professor at SEBTS where I attend) I am, (to steal Dr. Keathley's term) a "disappointed young-earther". I found out about this book through an interview with John Piper I came across, and this book really helped me sort-out what I believe. 
40 Questions About Creation and Evolution by Dr. Kenneth Keathley and Dr. Mark Rooker
This book addresses the issues of modern science and the scriptural texts in an accessible manner. It uses a balanced, non-biased approach using exegesis and science to debate the various views. It will also help you understand the history of the debates. There is a vast amount of great information packed into this relatively small volume. 

Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards's "Religious Affections" by Sam Storms
I stood in line when Dr. Storms spoke at SEBTS chapel this semester just to shake his hand and thank him for this book! I struggled through Edwards's "Religious Affections" and finally gave up without finishing. I heard about this book (from a blog by Dr. Nathan Finn, I believe), I picked it up and although it could be read as a stand-alone work, it helped me go back to Edwards's work and make sense of it. I highly commend this to you if you (like me) have struggled with Edwards's writing. It not only helped me with "Religious Affections" but other of Edwards's works as well.
Servant on the Edge of History by Sam James
I was honored to get to hear Dr. James speak in chapel this semester and we all got a copy of this book. This book will bless you. I urge you to read it because it will give you a brief glimpse into what our missionaries encounter in the field -- the struggles they endure and the way they suffer just to spread the Gospel to those who have never heard the name of Jesus. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

We have many men of science; too few men of God.

I have been thoroughly enjoying sitting under the teaching of Dr. Danny Akin as he is teaching through Revelation on Wednesday nights at Wake Cross Roads Baptist Church.

Tonight, while walking through Revelation 6:1-8, he quoted from General Omar Bradley's Armistice Day speech from 1948 -- I wanted to share this prophetic quote here:

With the monstrous weapons man already has, humanity is in danger of being trapped in this world by its moral adolescents. Our knowledge of science has clearly outstripped our capacity to control it. We have many men of science; too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. Man is stumbling blindly through a spiritual darkness while toying with the precarious secrets of life and death. The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. 
General Omar N. Bradley,“An Armistice Day Address.” The Collected Writings Of General Omar N. Bradley. Vol. 1. 584-589.

And the Word Became Flesh: A Metaphorical Incarnation Cannot Provide Salvation

 The following partially satisfies the requirements for Dr. Jamie Dew's class: Faith, Reason and the Christian Mind at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. 

And the Word Became Flesh:
A Metaphorical Incarnation Cannot Provide Salvation


The deity of Jesus of Nazareth has been the cornerstone of orthodox Christian belief since the fourth century. However, starting in the late eighteenth century, critical examination of the New Testament began to gain momentum. Throughout the enlightenment and into the post-modern world, more and more liberal theologians and religious philosophers have claimed that Christ never said he was God, and was in fact only an eccentric Rabbi, who was a good moral teacher. If Jesus were not God, the Gospel would not be a gospel at all and would just be a legend. From the followers of Arius in the fourth century to modern pluralists, the incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth is historically one of the most troublesome challenges to Christianity.

A metaphorical view of Jesus Christ opens the door to the pluralist view that Christianity is no better than any other religion. Philosopher John Hick has written extensively to try and justify religious pluralism. He attempts to systematically break down the belief that Jesus of Nazareth was literally God Incarnate and tries to show that this view cannot be rationally held. He famously states that “to say, without explanation, that the historical Jesus of Nazareth was also God is as devoid of meaning as to say that [a] circle drawn with a pencil on paper is also a square.”[1] Hick also promotes an idea of divine incarnation that is best understood metaphorically, believing that Christians who believe in the traditional idea of the incarnation of Christ live in an intellectual cocoon.[2] In Hick’s eyes, if he can take away the validity of the incarnation, he can take away the fact that God founded Christianity. That is the one thing that makes Christianity superior to other religions.

The ultimate question is if the Incarnation is logically justifiable, as well as if it has to be logically possible for it to have occurred. First, going back to John Hick’s “square circle” language, Hick in a later work adds to this by saying “The question, then, is not whether it is possible to give any coherent literal meaning to the idea of divine incarnation, but whether it is possible to do so in a way that satisfies the religious concerns which give point to the doctrine.”[3] Second, another common argument according to Stephen Evans, is that since an essential property of God is that God exists necessarily, God cannot die. If Jesus is God he cannot die but if Jesus is human he can die, so it is “incoherent to affirm that it is both possible and not possible for Jesus to be annihilated.”[4] Evans goes on to say that while it cannot be denied that the idea of God incarnate can be problematic and mysterious, it does not mean that a lack of comprehension is a basis for concluding that the doctrine is logically incoherent.[5] Although we know a lot about God, we only know what has been revealed to us. One of Evans’ claims is that in order for the incarnation to be deemed logically impossible, one would have to know everything that is an essential property to God’s being.[6] Therefore, one cannot claim that the incarnation is logically impossible.

Just because something is not easily understood does not mean that it is illogical or untrue. Simply having both the essential attributes of a human and the essential attributes of deity is not logically absurd. The incarnation would only become a logical fallacy if it were to be asserted that Jesus had both the essential attributes of deity while simultaneously not having the essential attributes of deity.

There is a difference between those who are merely human and Jesus, who was fully human. As Thomas Morris claims, there are two distinct, yet interrelated minds in the person of Jesus, with an asymmetric relationship between the two minds. Morris shows that there was a metaphysical and personal depth to the man Jesus that is lacking in individuals who are merely human. He writes: “The divine mind had full and direct access to the earthly [mind] resulting from the Incarnation but the earthly consciousness did not have such [full and direct] access to the overarching omniscience proper to the Logos, but only such access, on occasion, as the divine mind allowed it to have.”[7] Morris goes on to state “the personal cognitive and casual powers operative in the case of Jesus’ earthly mind were just none other than the cognitive and casual powers of God the Son.”[8] By contrast, Hick argues, “A composite mind whose determining element is divine…would not have the freedom to act wrongly. The human part might intend to sin, but the divine part…[would] over-rule or circumvent the intention.”[9] Scripture tells us in Matthew 4:1-11 and Hebrews 2:18 that Jesus was tempted. James, on the other hand tells us that “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13 [ESV]). There now seems to be a contradiction in Scripture. Morris ultimately argues “Jesus could be tempted to sin just in case it was epistemically possible for him that he sin. If at the times of his reported temptations, the full accessible belief set of his earthly mind did not rule out the possibility of his sinning, he could be genuinely tempted.”[10] Therefore, it seems epistemically possible for Jesus to have been tempted if he was not aware of the goodness contained in the consciousness shared with God the Son at that particular time.

John Hick believes that the traditional position held by the Christian Church since the fourth century is wrong. He that Jesus did not “understand himself to be God, or God the Son, incarnate.”[11] If the early Church, as well as modern evangelical Christians is correct in the interpretations of Scripture currently held as true, then John Hick’s pluralist view is incorrect. In an attempt to discredit the biblical accounts, Hick makes the astounding statement that “none of the writers was an eye-witness of the life that they depict. The Gospels are secondary and tertiary portraits dependent on oral and written traditions which had developed over a number of decades.”[12] Although the authors of the three Synoptic Gospels were not eyewitnesses, John, one of the twelve was an eyewitness, and it is John who gives some of the most significant proof of the deity of Jesus.

The Apostle John famously makes the divine nature and eternal history of Christ very clear in the prologue to his account of the gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-3, 14)

This presentation of Jesus as God by John has been viewed by some—such as the followers of Arius in the past and Jehovah’s Witnesses today—as saying that Jesus was a god rather than saying that Jesus was God. John is proclaiming that Jesus is God, and that He has existed from eternity past, even before the creation of the world. In addition to the Word language in the prologue, Jesus is called “Son of God” eight times in John’s Gospel, “Son of Man” nine times, which references the Ancient of Days vision in Daniel 7. In addition, there are seven “I am” statements by Jesus in John’s Gospel: “I…am He” in 4:26 referring to Himself as the Messiah, “It is I; do not be afraid” said to the disciples in 6:20 after walking on water (which implies deity), in 8:24, 8:28, 13:19, and in 18:5, 6 and 8 Jesus says “I am he”, referring to Himself as divine, also in 8:58 Jesus says “before Abraham was, I am” pointing back to Himself existing before Abraham (and implying before the foundation of the world). Also we see, in 20:28 that Thomas calls Jesus “My Lord and my God” showing that he knew that Jesus was God.

There are also a few examples in Scripture from Paul. First, in Philippians 2:7, Paul writes that Christ took “the form of a bondservant” and came “in the likeness of men.” Then in Colossians there is the passage known as the “Christ Hymn” in Colossians 1:15-20, which as premier New Testament scholar Douglas Moo proclaims is “reckoned among the most important Christological passages in the New Testament.”[13] In this text Jesus is shown to be eternal (v. 15), in verse 16, Paul says, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible,” which shows that Jesus was the agent of creation. In verse 17, Paul goes on to say “and in him all things hold together” showing that Jesus is also the sustainer of creation. Therefore, if one holds to the infallible, inerrant nature of Scripture it is very clear that Jesus was, and knew he was the Son of God incarnate.

The traditional Christian belief states that Jesus was the substitutionary atoning sacrifice for the sins of those who accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. The pluralist view of salvation put forth by Hick states that “no one of the great world religions is salvifically superior to the rest.”[14] Moreover, Hick says it is “misleading to see an acceptance of the Christian mythology of the cross as the only way to salvation for all human beings."[15] Hick’s pluralistic view doesn’t seem to require an atoning sacrifice as he states “if everyone acted on this basic principle [of love and compassion], taught by all the major faiths, there would be no injustice, no avoidable suffering, and the human family would everywhere live in peace.”[16] He is saying that by simply being religious, and having a relationship with any divine being, affects the moral compass and makes one a better person.

The Christianity that Hick proposes in his writings is one that is so far removed from traditional Christian belief that it is unrecognizable. If one believes in the inerrancy of Scripture, they see that the incarnation is essential to our salvation. Without it, we have no way of being reconciled back to God the Father. Going back to the Christ Hymn of Colossians, we see that Paul says “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20). When Jesus was on that cross, it is as if he took us sinners in one hand, and God the Father in the other hand and brought us together. Without his deity, Jesus could not have lived a perfect sinless life, and would not have been an atoning sacrifice for our sins. A metaphorical incarnation, like the one that Hick proclaims cannot save us from our sins.

The identity of Jesus is undoubtedly linked to Christianity. If Jesus was not fully God and fully human as Hick’s pluralism suggests then there is no hope for salvation because Christianity is then no better than any of the other world religions. The complete revelation of God in human form was Jesus of Nazareth and the Bible is the complete revelation of God’s word to us. If one upholds the true, inerrant, infallible nature of Scripture there is hope for salvation and Christianity is in fact unique and superior to all other religions. The claims that Jesus was not God in the flesh cannot be upheld in light of an inerrant view of Scripture. Though the incarnation is mysterious the Christian Church must continue to uphold the biblical truth that Jesus is in fact God Incarnate.



Works Cited

Evans, C. Stephen. The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith: The Incarnational Narrative as History. Oxford : New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Hick, John. “Religious Pluralism and Salvation.” Faith and Philosophy 5, no. 4 (October 1988): 365–77.
———. The Metaphor of God Incarnate, Second Edition: Christology in a Pluralistic Age. 2 edition. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.
———. , ed. The Myth of God Incarnate. SCM Press, 1977.
Moo, Douglas J. The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2008.
Morris, Thomas V. The Logic of God Incarnate. Wipf & Stock Pub, 2001.




[1] John Hick, ed., The Myth of God Incarnate (SCM Press, 1977).
[2] John Hick, The Metaphor of God Incarnate, Second Edition: Christology in a Pluralistic Age, 2 edition (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006).
[3] Ibid. 4
[4] C. Stephen Evans, The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith: The Incarnational Narrative as History (Oxford : New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).
[5] Ibid., 122-123.
[6] Ibid., 125.
[7] Thomas V. Morris, The Logic of God Incarnate (Wipf & Stock Pub, 2001), 103.
[8] Ibid., 161–162.
[9] Hick, The Metaphor of God Incarnate, Second Edition, 59.
[10] Morris, The Logic of God Incarnate, 148.
[11] Hick, The Metaphor of God Incarnate, Second Edition, 27.
[12] Ibid., 16.
[13] Douglas J. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2008).
[14] John Hick, “Religious Pluralism and Salvation,” Faith and Philosophy 5, no. 4 (October 1988): 365–77.
[15] Hick, The Metaphor of God Incarnate, Second Edition, 132.
[16] Hick, “Religious Pluralism and Salvation,” Faith and Philosophy 5 368.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Prayer for Spiritual Wisdom: An Exegesis of Ephesians 1:15-23


The following partially satisfies the requirements for Dr. Christopher Dickerson's Hermeneutics class at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

A Prayer for Spiritual Wisdom: An Exegesis of Ephesians 1:15-23


Summary of Ephesians 1:15-23


Main Idea of the Text (MIT) 

Paul thanks God for the believers at Ephesus, prays for them to grow in their knowledge of God and their awareness of Christ, and praises God for his exaltation of Christ over all things in this prayer of thanksgiving and intercession.

Outline

            A. Thanking God for grace shown by the people of Ephesus (1:15-16[ESV])
15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,

B. Asking for illumination to know God better (1:17-19)
17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might

C. Praising God for his exaltation of Christ (1:20-23)
20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.


Introduction


Ephesians is possibly the most influential document ever written, and according to Klyne Snodgrass, it is the “crown and climax of Pauline theology…[it] is the most contemporary book in the Bible. Apart from a few terms and the treatment of slavery, Ephesians could have been written to a modern church.”[1] Tony Merida also gives a few reasons why it is important to study Ephesians: It deepens ones understanding of the gospel, it magnifies the importance of the church, it provides grace-filled encouragement and offers practical answers to basic questions about Christian life.[2] By giving general instructions for growing in maturity in Christ this short letter is valuable to any believer from any age.

In the prayer of thanksgiving and praise from Ephesians 1:15-23, Paul shows us that Christians need the help of the Spirit to understand how great God is, and also to understand the good news of Christ’s resurrection. Additionally, Paul praises God for Christ’s exaltation at the right hand of God. He neatly weaves praise, thanksgiving and intercession into this prayer.

Structure


Largely, the structure of Ephesians conforms to the other Pauline letters except for the fact that the address is followed by two introductory paragraphs: a blessing, and a prayer of thanksgiving. None of Paul’s other letters have both.[3] Frank Thielman points out that although the letter seems to be well planned, there are times when the dividing lines between sections are sometimes unclear, which gives the letter a mixture of planned structure and free-flowing discourse.[4]

Authorship


Although Pauline authorship has been generally accepted, some scholars propose that someone other than Paul wrote the letter. Andrew Lincoln is one scholar who does not accept Pauline authorship. For example, he points out that Ephesians does not contain any of the marks of a typical Pauline letter: the addressing of immediate and particular issues, no list of personal greetings and its issues and themes are more general than specific.[5] One could easily say that the stance for Pauline authorship is actually becoming increasingly less popular. However, as Snodgrass points out, despite the frequency with which Pauline authorship is denied, the case is still not obvious.[6] Most importantly, he says that even though those who reject Pauline authorship feel that there should be no devaluing of Ephesians, in reality most of these scholars do consider it less authoritative.[7] Harold Hoehner explains that although Ephesians differs from other Pauline literature, the differences are not significant enough to reject Pauline authorship. He also argues that the strong assertion from the early church of Pauline authorship is significant since they were not only closer to the situation, but were “very astute in their judgment of genuine and fraudulent compositions.”[8] Therefore, it seems most likely that Paul is in fact the author of this letter.

Historical Background and Purpose


It has been traditionally understood that Paul wrote this letter to believers in Ephesus. However, because the tone is somewhat impersonal, and because the words “in Ephesus” are omitted from some manuscripts, there has been discussion around the original destination of the letter. Because of this, F.F. Bruce feels that perhaps the churches in the area were supposed to insert their own name.[9] Conversely, Hoehner argues that the words “In Ephesus” were most likely in the original autographs and that the impersonal tone could have been explained by the possibility that perhaps there were several churches in the area that would have read the letter.[10] Most importantly, as Lincoln points out, the general tone of this letter is one of the reasons why Ephesians has so easily transcended the original setting and has had such broad and universal appeal.[11]

The city of Ephesus was the largest trading center in Asia Minor and it is likely that Paul chose Ephesus because of its size and influence because these large cities were great places to share the gospel. It is known that Paul visited Ephesus on three occasions and that his ministry had a huge effect on the city.[12] While it is possible that there was one big church at Ephesus, it is most likely that the letter would have been circulated among many churches, or even house churches throughout Asia Minor.[13]

There has been a wide range of ideas about the circumstances that prompted Paul to write this letter. Thielman points out the importance of two elements of the letter’s cultural environment: the religious culture of first-century Ephesus and the complex relationship between early Christianity and Judaism. He concludes that neither of these elements are convincing alone and determines that the letter simply responds to problems that developed in Christian communities because Paul was absent and that Christians in the area were feeling marginalized from their societies.[14] It is obvious that Paul cared deeply for his readers, wanted to ensure their faith was built on sound doctrine, and wanted to strengthen their faith in the Gospel.

Exegesis


A. Thanking God for grace shown by the people of Ephesus (1:15-16)

Paul begins this new section with the words “For this reason”, which points back to the doxology (1:3-14). As Snodgrass points out “the intent of this prayer is that people will know in their own lives the benefits mentioned in the doxology.”[15] In the doxology, Paul has already, as Lincoln says, “drawn the recipients of the letter into his blessing of God as he focused on their experience of the gospel.”[16] Although Paul may not have personally known the recipients of the letter, he has rapport with him because of his knowledge of their faith. As Snodgrass points out, the statement that Paul “does not cease to give thanks” for them is a figurative way of conveying that he prays for them on a regular basis.[17] Paul is clearly thankful for those who will receive this letter because he knows that they were believers who believe the Gospel and are filled with the Spirit.

B. Asking for illumination to know God better (1:17-19a)

Here is where Paul’s petitions begin. Merida points out that Paul uses three phrases here that point to the idea of illumination: “the Spirit of wisdom” and of “revelation” (v. 17) and “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened” (v. 18).[18]

Paul is praying for the readers to be given the “Spirit of wisdom”. There is some debate here around the word pneuma that is translated here as “Spirit” because this word could either refer to either the Holy Spirit or human spirit.[19] Theilman says that this phrase is practically “unintelligible as a reference to the human spirit” since God is the one who gives revelation to people.[20] The only other place in Ephesians where pneuma comes together with “revelation” is in 3:4-5 where God’s Spirit reveals “the mystery of Christ”. Both of these weigh heavily in favor of taking this to mean that Paul is asking God in this prayer to give his reader the Holy Spirit to aid in wisdom and revelation.[21] Notice also, that all three persons of the Trinity are mentioned in this verse, which helps in building the strong Trinitarian emphasis throughout the letter.

Most commentators agree that the grammar connecting verses 17 and 18 are problematic. Is Paul praying here for two things: (1) the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, and (2) having the eyes of the reader’s hearts enlightened? That is possible, or is “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened” simply a parenthetical explanation of “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation”? Neither is easy grammatically, according to Snodgrass, but he feels that Paul’s intent is clear: “That God’s Spirit, already given to his readers, will continually give wisdom and revelation for life and understanding.” [22]  Paul’s strongest desire is for his readers to know and understand God better for the benefit of the Gospel. This is what he means by having the “eyes of their hearts enlightened” – he wants them to be receptive to what the Spirit is revealing to them.

Next, Paul mentions three things he wants his readers to know: “what is the hope to which he has called you,” “what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,” and “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.” First, Paul is praying for his readers to understand the hope that God’s call gives them for the future because an essential characteristic of Christianity is the lean toward the future.[23] Secondly, when Paul prays for the readers to understand “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,” Snodgrass shows that he is pointing to “the tremendous glory that is present when God inherits the people he has set apart for himself.”[24] Paul is not talking about something that the believers reading this letter will themselves receive. Paul is praying for them to understand their status as God’s own glorious inheritance.[25] God also has an inheritance and his inheritance is his people. The third request is that the readers will understand the “immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe according to the working of his great might.” Lincoln colorfully says that Paul “desires believers to know the greatness of God’s power and attempts to exhaust the resources of the Greek language by piling up four synonyms for power in order to convey an impression of something of the divine might.”[26] He goes on to clarify that although there may be subtle nuances in these four Greek words, “the point in the writer’s heaping up of these expressions is not their distinctiveness but their similarity.”[27] Paul especially wanted to emphasize the enormous magnitude of God’s power. In short, what Paul is emphasizing here is the Gospel. He wants his readers to understand that what God accomplished through Christ is available specifically to them as believers.

C. Praising God for his exaltation of Christ (1:20-23)

The phrase “he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead” in verse 20 is simply a demonstration of God’s power. Snodgrass points out that the literal reading actually uses the plural “from the dead ones.” This is interesting since it shows that the emphasis is not so much that Christ was raised from a state of death, but that he was raised out from the dead ones. This is an important difference, because it shows that his resurrection was not viewed as an isolated event, but is in fact the first stage in the future resurrection.[28] Paul then alludes to Psalm 110:1 with the words “and seated him at his right hand”. According to Thielman, Psalm 110 likely played a role in the first century debates about the identity of the Messiah.[29] Moreover, this psalm is often quoted and alluded to throughout the NT when the main interest is the exaltation of Jesus to God’s right hand, and usually these texts emphasize the vindication of Jesus after his crucifixion or his exalted status as God’s vice regent. [30] Lincoln points out that the terminology of being seated at the right hand also had parallels in the ancient Near Eastern world where the king was often seated next to the guardian deity of a city of nation. Occupying the place at a god’s right hand meant that the ruler exercised power on behalf of the god and held a position of supreme honor. The literal translation here for the place is “in the heavenlies” and this phrase is unique to Ephesians and is used five times.[31] According to Hoehner, the phrase denotes the place where God dwells and reinforces that Christ is seated in the presence of the Father at his right hand.[32] Hoehner makes it clear that one should not relate “in the heavenlies” and “at the right hand” because the latter is a position of sovereignty. He goes on to say: “this is in contrast to believers (2:6) and satanic forces (6:12) who are also “in the heavenlies,” but neither are at the right hand of God. This is reserved only for Christ”[33] Only Christ has that position of sovereign power.

Paul now lists a string of five powerful beings: “rule,” “authority,” “power,” “dominion,” and “every name that is named.” They are used to ensure that it is known that Christ’s victory is total. Thielman explains that Paul most likely included among these powers not only the demonic forces that many people in western Asia Minor tried to control through magic, but also the alliance between the present earthly political rulers and deities of the transcendent realm. He goes on to say that this “becomes even more likely when Paul adds the comment that Christ’s victory is effective not only in this age, but also in the one to come.”[34] Lincoln points out that the explicit mention of the two ages provides the only reference in all of Paul’s writings to both ages.[35] Snodgrass emphasizes that these phrases “show a belief in the demarcation of time between this age and God’s future.”[36] Therefore, Ephesians demonstrates both a realized and a future eschatology.

When Paul mentions that Christ is supreme over all his enemies with the words “all things under his feet” he was saying that not only is every power inferior to Christ, they are also subject to Christ.[37] Moreover, the metaphorical language “under his feet” has the idea of victory over enemies.[38] Summarizing Merida, now that Christ is the seated King, he is on a throne that is above all principalities and powers. He is above creation, all earthly powers and most importantly he is above Satan. Not only is every power inferior to Christ they are also subject to Christ.[39]
The phrase “and gave him as head over all things to the church” is yet another demonstration of God’s power. Paul has already told his readers that he has been praying for God to open the eyes of their hearts so that they might understand the great power that God exerted for “us who believe.” After he expanded on the greatness of God’s power he is now telling his readers how God has used this power for the advantage for the group of believers Paul now calls “the church” (tē ēkklēsia).[40] The word ēkklēsia has usually meant “assembly” such as a political assembly in ancient Greek literature. According to Hoehner, it occurs one hundred times in the LXX and in the canonical books it appears seventy-seven times, and is usually translated from qahal meaning “assembly, congregation”.[41] It is used one hundred fourteen times in the NT, sixty-two times by Paul and nine times in Ephesians. [42] Therefore, in the present context it is speaking to the relationship between Christ and the universal church.[43]

In verse 23, the concept of “the body” is introduced for the first time. Snodgrass points out that while “the transition from feet and head to body is natural, Paul’s use of the head and body images in Ephesians and Colossians is different from his other letters and reflects a later development of his thought.”[44] Hoehner states that the word sōma that is translated here as “body” usually refers to the physical body of a human or animal. In the LXX always refers to human or animal bodies, but in the NT it has also referred to terrestrial and celestial bodies as well as Christ’s body in connection with the Lord’s supper but refers to the church, the body of Christ, sixteen times. In Ephesians, with the exception of 5:28 it is always used metaphorically as a reference to the church.
The phrase translated as “the fullness of him who fills all in all,” can be the most difficult part of the letter to interpret, according to Snodgrass. Being filled, or “fullness”, he says, “Can express a variety of nuances, but the primary idea [here] seems to be ‘completeness.’”[45] Based on that, we could say that Christ completes all things, and that the church draws from this fullness.

Application


How does one now bring this text into the modern world? It obviously involves looking at both the biblical and modern culture. Sometimes, the biblical culture is not as distant as one might think, as is somewhat the case with this passage in Ephesians.

As Snodgrass points out, Paul’s prayer here in this passage is “as relevant for us now as when it was first written.”[46] Paul begins by thanking God for the believers who would be reading this letter, and he offers them encouragement based on what he has heard about their faith, even if he may not have met them personally. Paul lets them know that he is continuously praying for them and prays specifically that they may have the illumination of the Sprit and that they might better know God and the power of the exaltation of Christ.

He prays specifically so that they may have the “eyes of their heart enlightened” by the Spirit of wisdom. Today, just as then, believers always need the help of the Holy Spirit to know God and to understand his truth. In order to seek the Spirit’s help, one must first have a heart of humility. As Merida teaches: “the reason we often fail to seek the Spirit’s illumination is that we have an inflated view of ourselves.”[47] If Christians do not have the humility to see themselves as sinners, they will never ask for God’s help. It is important to constantly ask God for understanding.

Paul also prays that the recipients of this letter would know God better. Don Carson says that one thing especially needed in Christianity today “is a deeper knowledge of God. We need to know God better”[48] J. I. Packer says that those who know God have four characteristics: great energy for God, great thoughts of God, great boldness for God, and great contentment in God.[49] Christians should be continually praying for God’s help in knowing him better.

Paul then expands by praying for better understanding of the gospel blessings. Paul mentions three blessings in particular: “what is the hope to which he has called you,” “what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,” and “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.” Paul wants his readers to see the hope that is in the glory of eternal salvation, no matter how difficult this life is. He wants all Christians to understand that they are valuable to God, and that they should live for God’s praise because they are his inheritance. Paul wants believers to understand that only God’s power will allow them to arrive into his kingdom, and this power is only given to us who believe. Additionally, he wants all who are faithful to understand that Jesus is Lord over the church. The church is Christ’s body, and he rules the church and he fills the church with his presence. 
Just as Paul told his readers that he prayed for them continually, modern Christians need to do the same for their brothers and sisters in Christ. Christians need to pray constantly with thanksgiving and praise, asking for illumination from the Spirit for themselves and for fellow believers. One should never stop seeking Spiritual wisdom and continue to develop the desire to know God better.

Works Cited

Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984.

Carson, D. A. A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992.

Furnish, Victor Paul. “Ephesians, Epistle to the” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 2. ed. Edited by D. N. Freedman, et al. New York: Doubleday, 1992

Hawthorne, Gerald F. Ralph P Martin, and Daniel G. Reid. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Hoehner, Harold W. Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic 2002.

Lincoln, Andrew T. Ephesians Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, 1990.

Merida, Tony. Ephesians Christ-Centered Exposition. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2014.

O’Brien, Peter. The Letter to the Ephesians. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.

Packer, J. I. Knowing God. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1973.

Snodgrass, Klyne. Ephesians. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

Thielman, Frank. Ephesians. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010


[1] Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians The NIV Application Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1996), 17
[2] Tony Merida, Ephesians Christ Centered Exposition, (Nashville: B&H Publishing 2014), 3-4
[3] Victor Paul Furnish, “Ephesians, Epistle to the” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 2, ed., D. N. Freedman, et al., (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 535
[4] Frank Thielman, Ephesians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Baker 2010), 28-29
[5] Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians The Word Biblical Commentary, (Dallas: Word, 1990), xxxix
[6] Snodgrass, Ephesians, 22
[7] Ibid., 30
[8] Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic 2002), 60
[9] F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 240
[10] Hoehner, Ephesians, 78-79
[11] Lincoln, Ephesians, lxxxi
[12] Hoehner, Ephesians, 88
[13] Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 245
[14] Thielman, Ephesians, 22-25
[15] Snodgrass, Ephesians, 71
[16] Lincoln, Ephesians, 54
[17] Snodgrass, Ephesians, 72
[18] Merida, Ephesians, 35
[19] The word pneuma occurs fourteen times in Ephesians and twelve of these times it refers to the Holy Spirit (1:13, 17; 2:18, 22; 3:5, 16, 4:3, 4, 30; 5:18; 6:17, 18). It is used to refer to the ruler of the world in 2:2 and of the human spirit in 4:23.
[20] Thielman, Ephesians, 96
[21] Ibid.
[22] Snodgrass, Ephesians, 73
[23] Ibid., 74
[24] Ibid., 74
[25] Thielman, Ephesians, 99
[26] Lincoln, Ephesians, 60
[27] Lincoln, Ephesians, 60
[28] Snodgrass, Ephesians, 75
[29] See Mark 12:35-37; Matt. 22:41-46; Luke 20:41-44; and Jesus’s fusion of Daniel 7:13 with Ps. 110:1 in Mark 14:62; Matt. 26:64; and Luke 22:69
[30] Thielman, Ephesians, 107
[31] See Eph. 1:3, 20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12
[32] Hoehner, Ephesians, 275
[33] Ibid.
[34] Thielman, Ephesians, 108
[35] Lincoln, Ephesians, 65
[36] Snodgrass, Ephesians, 78
[37] Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 145
[38] See Joshua 10:24; cf. 2 Sam 22:39
[39] Merida, Ephesians, 40
[40] Thielman, Ephesians, 110
[41] Deut 18:16; 31:30; 1 Sam 17:47; 1 Kgs 8:14, 22, 55, 65; Pss 22:22; 149:1; Mic 2:5
[42] Eph 1:22; 3:10, 21; 5:23, 24, 25, 27, 29, 32
[43] Hoehner, Ephesians, 287
[44] Snodgrass, Ephesians, 79
[45]Snodgrass, Ephesians, 79-80
[46] Snodgrass, Ephesians, 81
[47] Merida, Ephesians, 36
[48] D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers, (Grand Rapids: Baker 1992), 15
[49] J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity 1973), 27-31